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Kentucky Derby 2013: Contenders & Analysis

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With just a month remaining until the first Saturday in May, it's time to take stock of the contenders on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Matthew Stockman

I'm in the process of updating my graded stakes file with all of last week's races (I'm still waiting on the release of a few Bris figures), but I have enough data to notice a difference of opinion with the figure makers in their opinion of the Florida and Louisiana Derbies.

The Beyer numbers for Revolutionary and Mylute in the Louisiana Derby was a tepid 93, but Bris, Equibase, Performance Figures and the Racing Post all rated the race much higher across the board. No one figure is the be-all, end-all of determining how fast a horse ran on a particular day because of the reliance on small sample sizes to compute a track variant

Overall, the Beyer numbers rate Orb's win in the Florida Derby as a faster race than Revolutionary's win at the Fair Grounds (97 vs. 93). However, Bris (97 vs. 105), Equibase (99 vs. 111), and Performance Figures (-45 vs. -56) all rate the Florida Derby as a slower race than the Louisiana Derby. The Racing Post also gave the Florida Derby winner a higher rating (117 vs. 111).

As of the completion of the graded stakes races last weekend, here are the top five figures under each system for three-year-old males in 2013 at all distances and on all surfaces:


1. Itsmyluckyday (104 - Holy Bull)
t-2. Super Ninety Nine (101 - Southwest)
t-2. Verrazano (101 - Tampa Bay Derby)
4. Shanghai Bobby (100 - Holy Bull)
t-5. Orb (97 - Fountain of Youth)
t-5. Orb (97 - Florida Derby)


1. Itsmyluckyday (106 - Holy Bull)
t-2. Revolutionary (105 - Louisiana Derby)
t-2. My Lute (105 - Louisiana Derby)
4. Shanghai Bobby (104 - Holy Bull)
t-5. Orb (102 - Fountain of Youth)
t-5. Departing (102 - Louisiana Derby)
t-5. Violence (102 - Tampa Bay Derby)


t-1. Revolutionary (111 - Louisiana Derby)
t-1. Mylute (111 - Louisiana Derby)
t-3. Will Take Charge (110 - Rebel)
t-3. Oxbow (110 - Rebel)
5. Itsmyluckyday (109 - Holy Bull)

Performance Figures

t-1. Ive Struck a Nerve (-59 - Risen Star)
t-1. Code West (-59 - Risen Star)
3. Palace Malice (-57 - Risen Star)
t-4. Revolutionary (-56 - Louisiana Derby)
t-4. Verrazano (-56 - Tampa Bay Derby)
t-4. Honorable Dillon (-56 - Hutcheson)

Racing Post Ratings

t-1. Verrazano (118 - Tampa Bay Derby)
t-1. Violence (118 - Fountain of Youth)
3. Orb (117 - Florida Derby)
4. Itsmyluckyday (116 - Holy Bull)
5. Java's War (115 - Tampa Bay Derby)

As you can plainly see, there is some considerable disagreement between the systems as to which horse has run the fastest (or best) race so far in 2013. Beyer and Brisnet rate Itsmyluckday's win in the Holy Bull as the top effort. Equibase llikes Revolutionary's win in the Louisiana Derby. Performance figures rate the Risen Star as the best race. And the Racing Post tabs Verrazano (Tampa Bay Derby) and Violence* (Fountain of Youth).

*And, yes, the Racing Post Rating for Fountain of Youth runner-up Violence is higher than it is for the winner, Orb. The reason for this is that Racing Post Ratings are based on the performance of a horse in a particular race versus other horses adjusted for weight carried. Orb beat Violence by a half-length in the Fountain of Youth but carried only 116 pounds compared to the 122 pounds of Violence. Since the margin of victory was relatively small, Violence received the higher rating due to the additional weight carried.

If you like a particular horse to win the Derby and are looking for a number to back that up, you're probably in luck.

Visually, I thought both Orb and Revolutionary looked good in winning their races on Saturday but not because of the length or size of their victories. Both Orb and Revolutionary displayed additional versatility they hadn't displayed before which I think will come in handy in the Derby. In Orb's case, he sat much closer to the lead than he did in the Fountain of Youth (and some of his earlier races) and was able to stalk Itsmyluckyday all the way around the track, giving Orb a decided tactical advantage that paid huge dividends.

Revolutionary made his move from far back of the field, much further back than he was in the Withers Stakes (he was 12 1/4 lengths back after a half at the Fair Grounds but only 4 3/4 back at the same point in the Withers), but he was able to gain significant ground on the leaders prior to entering the far turn, making the task of closing from the back much, much easier. If Revolutionary waits until the top of the stretch or even the mid-way point on the far turn to commence his rally, I doubt he gets to Mylute by the time he hits the wire.

One other point about the Florida and Louisiana Derbies is the ground loss sustained by each winner. Orb covered 6,045 feet at Gulfstream Park, according to Trakus, which was more ground than every horse in the field except eighth place finisher Are You Kidding Me. Itsmyluckyday traveled seven feet less than Orb, while Merit Man covered the least amount of ground of any horse in the race at 6,000 feet.

I really wish the Fair Grounds has Trakus cause I would love to know how much ground Revolutionary lost in the middle of the race because I'm guessing it was a lot. But even without the hard data, there's no question he was exceptionally wide. The chart calls his move five-wide on the far turn, but I'd say it was more like six or seven. Regardless, he didn't save any ground and still had plenty left in the tank to kick on for home.

On last thought on this weekend's performances, although this has to do with the Oaks and not the Derby:

Dreaming of Julia earned massive figures from all sides for her dominating win in the Gulfstream Oaks: Beyer (114), Bris (107), Equibase (116), Performance Figures (-62) and the Racing Post (122) all awarded some of their highest numbers of the season and by far the highest of the year earned by a three-year-old filly.

In terms of the current point standings, below are the rankings of horses based on points earned under the new systems. Ties are broken via graded earnings, which is reflected in the chart.

As it stands right now, Orb, Revolutionary, Lines of Battle (should he decide to enter), Will Take Charge, Itsmyluckyday, Vyjack, Govenor Charlie, Black Onyx and Her the Ghost appear to be locks to make the starting gate. After that, I think it's not that clear. The 42 points of Mylute appears to be enough but there are plenty of points to be had in the final couple of weeks that could knock him into the bubble, so to speak.

There are four more 100-40-20-10 point races, which means, at a minimum, four more horses are going to jump Mylute, knocking him down to number 15. If the four horses that earn 40 points for placing in those upcoming preps all have at least three points to their name, Mylute will get knocked down another four sports to #19. Then it gets interesting. If a horse with 23 points or more finishes third in any of those races, Mylute will again be bumped down. (The big threats are Oxbow, Uncaptured, Flashback and Goldencents finishing third in their final prep races and horses with at least give points finishing second.)

So, while Mylute appears fairly safe, he is no lock to make the Derby.

Rank Points Horse Trainer
1 150 Orb Shug McGaughey III
2 110 Revolutionary Todd Pletcher
3 100 Lines of Battle Aiden O'Brien
4 60 Will Take Charge D. Wayne Lukas
5 50 Itsmyluckyday Eddie Plesa, Jr.
50 Vyjack Rudy Rodriguez
50 Govenor Charlie Bob Baffert
50 Black Onyx Kelly Breen
50 Verrazano Todd Pletcher
50 Hear the Ghost Jerry Hollendorfer
11 42 Mylute Tom Amoss
12 36 Oxbow D. Wayne Lukas
13 30 Uncaptured Mark Casse
30 Flashback Bob Baffert
15 29 Goldencents Doug O'Neill
16 22 Java's War Ken McPeek
17 20 Merit Man Bob Hess, Jr.
20 Den's Legacy Bob Baffert
20 Falling Sky John Terranova II
20 Departing Al Stall, Jr.
20 Code West Bob Baffert
20 West Hills Giant John Terranova II
23 14 Golden Soul Dallas Stewart
24 13 Dynamic Sky Mark Casse
25 11 Speak Logistics Eddie Plesa, Jr.
26 10 Overanalyze Todd Pletcher
10 Super Ninety Nine Bob Baffert
10 Power Broker Bob Baffert
10 Abraham Todd Pletcher
10 Giant Finish Tony Dutrow
10 Narvaez Agustin Bzera
10 Palace Malice Todd Pletcher
10 Elnaawi Kiaran McLaughlin
10 Tiz a Minister Paul Aguirre
35 9 Texas Bling Danele Durham
36 7 Siete de Oros Ramon Preciado
37 6 He's Had Enough Doug O'Neill
6 Fear The Kitten Mike Maker
39 5 Shakin It Up Bob Baffert
5 Tesseron Josie Carroll
5 Taken by the Storm Ken McPeek
42 4 Capo Bastone Todd Pletcher
43 4 Normandy Invasion Chad Brown
4 Escapefromreality Dominick Schettino
4 Frac Daddy Ken McPeek
46 3 Fortify Mahmood Al Zarooni